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Dr. Amar Amarasingam at the Mosaic Institute on February 11th. Photo Credit: Mosaic Institute

On February 11th, 2015, students involved in the Mosaic Institute’s UofMosaic program hosted a “lunch-and-learn” event entitled “The 2015 Presidential Election in Sri Lanka: Implications for Human Rights”.  The event was held at the Mosaic Institute’s offices and featured Dr. Amarnath Amarasingam, a sociologist and human rights researcher, as the main speaker. The session was part of the “UofMosaic Talks Peace: In the Aftermath of War” series.

Dr. Amarasingam began his talk with an overview of ethnic tensions in modern Sri Lanka, which date  back to at least the 1950s. He then provided a brief summary of the civil war between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) that ravaged the country between 1983 and 2009, and that resulted in large Tamil, Sinhalese, and Muslim Sri Lankan diaspora communities forming in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, where thousands of people fleeing the violence found refuge.

Dr. Amarasingam then proceeded to examine the years since the end of the civil war in 2009. He noted that, although the war ended almost six years ago, the reasons that led to the violence remain largely unaddressed. He then focused on specific issues that are preventing Sri Lanka from moving into a post-conflict context marked by truth, justice, and pluralism. Some of the issues Dr. Amarasingam examined include the repression of civil society groups, both at home and in the diaspora; the strong influence of the military on the economic and political situations in the predominantly Tamil regions of the country; the significant impact that the conflict had on women; and what he sees as misguided government efforts to “rehabilitate” former LTTE fighters and to promote Sinhala culture in Tamil areas of the country. He also stressed the need for a process of collective remembering and dialogue to make sure the war is not seen in a simplistic light that reduces its complexities into an “us versus them” dichotomy.

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Dr. Amar Amarasingam at the Mosaic Institute on February 11th. Photo Credit: Mosaic Institute

In this context, Dr. Amarasingam echoed the feeling of cautious optimism put forth by several members of the Sri Lankan diaspora in Canada about the election of Maithripala Sirisena as the country’ new president in early 2015. Dr. Amarasingam stressed that while some of the new government’s actions have been encouraging, the new executive needs to begin to progressively tackle some of the structural issues mentioned above in order to foster meaningful change in Sri Lanka.

This event was an opportunity for young Canadians with community ties to Sri Lanka to continue the important peace-focused conversations that Mosaic has been facilitating since 2009. Attendees at the event also included students with an academic interest in Sri Lanka and in South Asia in general.

“The 2015 Presidential Election in Sri Lanka: Implications for Human Rights” was presented as part of the Mosaic Institute’s UofMosaic program. The UofMosaic is the Mosaic Institute’s campus-based peace building program for university students. The program delivers programming at Ryerson University, York University, the University of Toronto, Concordia University, McGill University, and Simon Fraser University. UofMosaic is made possible by the generous financial support of BMO Financial Group. For more information, please e-mail info@mosaicinstitute.ca.